DOBSON — Seventh-grade math teachers for Surry County Schools will be getting some specialized training this summer so that they can implement a new training program as part of a trial run.
Neil Atkins, director of the Surry Virtual Academy and secondary education, gave a presentation this week to the Surry County Board of Education on the program through Assistments, a public service of Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Joining Atkins was Kristy Cox, an eighth-grade math teacher who took training in the program last summer.
This computerized system allows students to practice math and take sample tests. Then they get immediate feedback on where they are having trouble, Atkins said.
When a trouble spot is identified, the system can provide hints to help the student along. Or, Atkins said, if the student shows a weakness in a certain type of problem, the software can offer “skill builders,” or guided practice, to work on that skill.
This is similar to a program the schools have used in the past called iReady, noted Atkins, but the great thing about this is that Assistments is free. And the couple behind the program are determined that it will always remain free.
Cox said she went to Massachusetts to train with the husband and wife team who developed the math system. As both of them are former teachers, the couple has a firm grasp of what teachers need in the classroom, she said.
Assistments is spreading far and wide; Atkins said it is now used in 42 states and 14 countries, with 50,000 students exposed.
MIT’s Poverty Action Lab conducted a study of the program a couple of years ago and called it “one of the two most promising educational technologies in the U.S.” The study found that students’ math scores in Maine improved from using the software just 10 minutes a night on three or four days of the week.
“Time on task is increased dramatically,” stated Cox.
There is evidence of improved student math performance, especially among lowest performers, said Atkins.
Atkins said Surry County’s four middle schools are part of a small sample from across the state to give the program a trial run. He said 66 middle schools will be take park in the trial.
Two of the county’s four middle schools will start using Assistments this fall after teacher training this summer, he said. The other two will start two years later as part of a delayed-use group.
As part of the trial, funding will be provided to pay the teachers for their training during their summer vacation. The seventh-grade teachers will receive high-quality personal development and be compensated at $200 a day, according to Atkins.
Two requirements for all schools taking part in the study are: one, that the classes must have a one-to-one ratio of students to internet-enabled devices that they can take home; two, math homework must be assigned at least three days a week.
If the trial is for seventh-grade classes, then why was Cox, an eighth-grade teacher, the first to receive training, school board members asked.
Kristy wasn’t part of the statewide study, explained Atkins. She was there to try out the program and see if it might be beneficial. Once school personnel could see the positives, then wanting to be part of the state trial was obvious.
And even though this is for the seventh grade, he added, the district has received an okay from Assistments to share the info with the other eighth-grade teachers, too.
Cox sees the benefit of the software. She said it works with kids who are ahead of the curve as well as the ones so far behind they are struggling with fourth-grade math.
“When I design a lesson, I can make video and put myself in it,” she said.
The program has an app that can be downloaded to a smart phone or tablet so kids can get in some study time in the car or bus or wherever they are. And, she added, there is still more about the software that she hasn’t learned how to do. She is definitely glad the district is taking part in the study and wants to see it grow.
Dr. Travis Reeves, school superintendent, named the February Employee of the Month at the meeting.
Blake McCraw is the band instructor for both North Surry High and Gentry Middle schools. He has worked nine years at North where he has 85 band students; this is his third year at Gentry with 100 students.
Reeves read a nomination letter from a parent to the school board.
“I wanted to let you know what a wonderful job Mr. McCraw does. My son is a member of the band and loves every minute of it. I cannot believe the change band has made in my son’s life. He found his passion and now wants to continue his music education next year at North Surry, including the marching band.
“I feel I am witnessing a miracle. He has never been on any sort of team since he is not an athlete, and now he has found one. Mr. McCraw is a wonderful teacher and has a great program for the students.”
“It is really an honor to be selected,” said McCraw. “I’m glad to be a small part of providing opportunities for our students to find an avenue in which they enjoy and excel.”
Five district teachers were recognized this week for earning their National Board credentials.
North Carolina public schools are welcoming 616 newly certified National Board teachers, bringing the state’s total number to 21,460 – the largest number of National Board Certified teachers in the nation.
Peggy Brookins, National Board president and CEO, says, “Our work at the National Board is based on the belief that every child across the country deserves to be taught by an accomplished teacher. When accomplished practice becomes the norm, the advantage will be significant, spreading beyond students and teachers to be felt by their communities, employers and society at-large.”
The five teachers honored this week bring the total certified instructors in the county district to 81, according to Sonia Dickerson, director of communications.
Honored were: Mason Midkiff, Surry Central; Eric Riggs, Gentry Middle; Heather Grant, Gentry Middle; Shaunda York, Franklin Elementary; and Jonathan Norman, Central Middle (who couldn’t attend because of a makeup date for a sporting event).
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.